To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.—Jer. 6.10

[Terms of Communion: An Article from The Contending Witness.]


Excerpted From:

VOL. 1         JUNE, 1841.          NO. 2. Editor's Note:

In recent weeks much trouble has errupted in a controversy over Terms of Communion amongst a group of people professing adherence to our Covenanted Reformation, and claiming identity with the historic Reformed Presbyterian Church.

For the help of those who would be careful to walk by the footsteps of the flock, the following article is presented. It is by no means a thorough treatment on the subject which it summarizes. Yet, some of the points are worthy of note, as explanatory of troubles within the Reformed Presbyterian Church both when the article was written, as well as today. Are material changes to the Terms of Communion ever necessary? The progress of the Witnesses in their testimony for King Jesus, against this changing world of enemies, will often make changes necessary, if not to the wording of the Terms, at least to the Testimony which those Terms require us to uphold. But, whereas one would think that among Presbyterians the occasion for trouble would be determining what changes ought to be made, history is now repeating itself as those who profess to follow a divine law order of ecclesiastical administration, make a great deal of trouble merely with regard to how those Terms are changed. It is hoped that reflection upon the last sentence of the first paragraph will bring to order those who have walked disorderly, and that peace may again return to that quarter of Zion from which we hoped for greater things.


The terms of communion are an abstract of the church's profession and engagements:—the grounds of faith and the rule of duty, as a standard, duly subordinated to the Scriptures and founded upon the same. They show to the world, in what sense the doctrines and laws of the Bible are received, and also operate as a bond of union, promoting harmony among church members. In the event of changing the terms, it follows of necessity that, unless opportunity is afforded for all concerned to signify acquiescence in the change, dissention will ensue. {35}

It has been stated by the Reformed Presbytery,* that the terms of communion in the Ref'd. Presb. Church, have been "materially changed;" and that they have been "received in a mutilated form,—altered," &c. Some have complained that the language of the Presbytery in this connexion is too indefinite, and that the sense is consequently obscure to the common reader. The immediate object of these observations is to simplify, and if possible to obviate the apprehended obscurity.

A "material change" is more than a verbal alteration, or change of phraseology. For however general, comprehensive and appropriate the language, in which our terms of communion were couched, as first adopted in Britain and Ireland: it is not supposed that the mere alteration of a word or phrase, necessarily affects or materially changes these, or any other symbols of the church's profession.—Then, it could not be the meaning of the Presbytery in this judicial statement, "that our forefathers, in America, are chargeable with materially changing our terms of communion, because they adopted a different phraseology from the former, in framing these terms for the Reformed Church in this land." Perhaps the Minutes will be, in this case, their own expositor. What is said in one place to be a change, is elsewhere expressed by the term mutilation. This word implies—material alteration.

The first term is mutilated, by the omission of the phrase, which closed the original term;—"and the only infallible rule of faith and manners." Perhaps duty does not require that search be instituted, as to the motives inducing to this omission. It is fair however to suppose that those who undertook, without legitimate authority, to change this part of the Church's Standards, were not altogether without motive. And the nature or quality of the motives then operating, may perhaps be fairly estimated, from the consideration, that advantage was taken of the omission, by those who remodeled these terms of communion. We now refer to past developments in the history of the Ref'd. Church in America. Has it not been asserted and published in substance, that "no nation under heaven ever had fairer claims to be regarded as the moral ordinance of God, than these U. States?" Has it not been said, that the divinely instituted ordinance of civil government is exemplified in this nation? and have not those who made and continue to reiterate these anti-reformation assertions,—embodied them in their practice? Now, these sentiments obtained currency, and they have been carried out in practice, by those who were first and chiefly instrumental in omitting the aforesaid clause. Let it be admitted, that the word of God is the only rule of civil manners, as the original term of communion {36} implies; and the assertions, above quoted, will appear anti-scriptural, heathen dogmas,—utterly repugnant to the whole tenor and provisions of our covenanted Reformation.

At the meeting of General Synod in 1834, when it was thought expedient, after our late rupture, to publish a new edition of our Testimony, continuing the historical part &c. in order especially to counteract the corrupting influence of a spurious edition of 1824, it was deemed proper to republish the terms of communion in the same connexion. A member of Synod suggested the propriety of restoring the omitted clause to its former place. To this there seemed to be a unanimous agreement at the time; and the committee of publication were instructed accordingly. The new edition was forthcoming in 1835, but the appendage was omitted as before! The native consequences are known.

The fourth term is "curtailed" equally with the first, and still more seriously "mutilated." In the original terms, the solemn renovation of our Covenants at Auchensaugh, had occupied a place, in the estimation of our ancestors, deservedly prominent. In that public deed, point had been given to the general doctrines of preceding attainments on the head of Magistracy. Hence the Reformed Presbytery of Scotland, in framing a judicial Testimony, gave due prominency to that renovation: and this was done on the general principle, lying at the foundation of all reformation attainments,—that "the witnessing church of Christ may not, at the risk of perjury, decline from a more pointed testimony, to one which is more loose and general." The same Presbytery incorporated that deed with their terms of communion. Had presbyterian order been observed, in the attempt to remove it in this country, the members of the church could not have been so readily circumvented, nor so easily subjected to imposition. What required a series of years to effect in Scotland, by some attention to presbyterial steps of procedure; was accomplished, for any thing known to us, without visible or formal opposition in America. And although in the land, from which we have often, with pleasing emotions, traced the line of our ecclesiastical descent; the "violence done to Jerusalem," has been providentially successful: yet the violence offered has effected disruption, and the concussion is felt in its sensible influence, to the remotest limits of our ecclesiastical organization. Alas! "our breach is wide like the sea." Such, christian reader, are the bitter fruits of declension,—the attempt to unsettle or displace any cornerstone, laid by the "wise Master Builder" at the foundation of Zion; and on which the millennial temple is to be erected.

The sixth, or last term of communion is changed, by receiving a useless and awkward appendage; namely,—"due subordination" &c. The judicious presbyterian will perceive almost on inspection; the {37} design which is wrapped up in that clause. It must have been subjoined, in terrorem,—to operate on the fears of "insubordinate ecclesiastics." The Reformed Presbytery ask,—"is not the 3d article sufficient on this point?" The 3d article requires of the applicant for communion, "an acknowledgment that presbyterial church government is exclusively of divine right and unalterable." Now does not presbyterial order imply "due subordination?" Hence the peremptory demand is unnecessary, as a tail to the sixth term. We shall close these explanatory remarks, by recapitulation in categorical order.

The first term is mutilated, inasmuch as the omission of the last clause leaves the christian professor without an application of the fundamental principle or assertion, that the Old and New Testament is the Word of God. Here let it be added,—the Quaker denies, in common with the avowed infidel, that the Scriptures are the word of God: and these both, together with all other errorists, deny that the Scriptures are the only rule of civil duty.

The fourth term is mutilated, because in it is wanting the faithful, solemn, public deed of renovation of our Covenants in 1712; which deed had been frequently and explicitly, as also judicially approved, homologated, and sanctioned as faithful, by our remote and more recent reforming ancestry.

The sixth term is changed or altered, because that incongruous, illogical, stupid appendage; deemed useless, by our judicious and discriminating forefathers, has been added;—calculated, not to say designed, to generate implicit faith, and procure blind obedience. "A regular life and conversation," according to the logic of those who added this redundant clause, does not imply or include "due subordination in the Lord," to legal authority! But this is not all,—"due subordination" to ecclesiastical authority, according to this mode of reasoning, is the principal, if not the only element in a "regular life" &c. And what is still more remarkable in point of logical accuracy,—this "subordination" is, after all, no part of "a regular life," &c., because "a regular life" must be attained,—"and due subordination" rendered in addition!!! It is well also, to apprise the "simple faithful," that a part of the obedience or subordination "due," is "in the Lord," that all occasion of misapprehension may be removed. Of course, the rest is discretionary with the court!—ED.


1. Minutes of Ref'd. Presbytery, Sept. 1840, pp. 8, 9.